The night was eerie, cold and dark. The sky heavily clouded with not a soul in sight. As wolves howled and wild dogs barked, this setting sent any heart into a fright. Gushing wind rustled fallen dry leaves on the ground as it whistled through, making a high pitched sound. The autumn had stolen most of the trees of their leaves, whose branches camouflaged with the pitch darkness. Right in the middle of the forest was this brave soldier who was desperate to get back home. It was already late and the family would have to sleep hungry if she didn’t get back with the food. Making her way through the rough terrain, she sped on foot wary of the situation. Tactics learnt while living in forest helped her to prepare for any situation. The art of bare limbs warfare was something she excelled in. Her mother had taught her how to defend when she was singled out. Excelling in the art of warfare as well as imbibing discipline of the household, she was an exemplary daughter. Thinking of her hungry kids, Shero relied on her limbs to take her home as soon as possible.
On reaching the valley she took a shortcut across the river carrying the carcass in her mouth and swimming quickly across. Being extremely careful, she alternated strokes just to keep herself safe from the crocs and other in-water dangers. Home was about a mile away from the opposite bank. Carrying the meat of the boar that she had killed earlier in the evening, she waded through the waters as she was reaching the bank.
A puff of dust in the air a few hundred meters away caught her attention. She stayed low and started to observe her surroundings. The grass at the banks was tall enough to hide her body. Crooning her ears, she heard a little hustle of grass to her left. A sudden movement out there, Shero was sure that there was more than one of them. Looking above the grass with her powerful eyes, she could spot them. They were getting ready to advance. Pairs of blue lit eyes were cautiously moving into her. She knew that the smell of the boar meat attracted jackals, but she wasn’t expecting them to make an attack on her at that spot. They weren’t equipped to handle attacks on the banks. But soon even they were learning. Inconspicuously she surveyed all around, it was not only from the front, but their commander was planning an attack from all around.
This was the third time that she was being attacked. The first time she was too young to handle their pack, she managed to get home but with a broken hind leg. The second time she killed two jackals, although her front paws were full of blood, she loved ripping off their stomachs. They were no match for her speed; it is a wide known fact that cheetahs are the fastest animals on the planet.
Unclear if they were after the boar meat, her meat or both, she formulated a plan. However strong and swift she was, it is always difficult to defeat a pack of jackals fighting individually. She could smell them now, which means that they were very near, she had to act swiftly.
The instructions were very clear from the leader of the pack. They had not eaten for almost a day, and hence were desperate. They could see from their hideout that there was an animal crossing the river carrying fresh boar meat, but weren’t sure of what was bringing it. Their strategy was simple, attack even if it was bigger than them, all they wanted was food. Even if lives had to be sacrificed, their pack had to be saved. Giving an inspiring talk, their leader sent them to the field.
After waiting for a couple of minutes, the leader let out a howl indicating the signal to attack. Without any hesitation, the jackals shot into their target. They had not given any room of escape for their prey. The only direction it could run was into the water and that would decrease its speed. Relying on the precision of their nose, as nothing was visible they leaped onto the spot. Some of them with both the paws in an attacking position which would scratch off the skin of the prey. The plan was simple, a few rip the skin off the animal in the first round, as and when it is recovering from the shock, there would be another round of attacks that would psychologically damage the animal. Later, the combined attack would certainly lead to their victory.
The first soldiers leapt into the air, expecting to land on the prey’s body and feel the blood. All their paws’ found was carcass of the wild boar. With the carcass in the center and the three jackals at equidistant lengths, the second line of attack landed. They were happy enough to get the carcass but fear loomed inside as the prey wasn’t there. Definitely this must be a bigger and an intelligent prey. The move was planned cautiously. Within seconds this message was sent to the commander, who asked the vigil keeper for answers. “But sir, I did not see any movement” he assured.
Shero had made his move swift and stealthily. This was just as they were advancing. Since they had pegged their location to the smell of the carcass, she tiptoed without rustling the grass to about a few meters away. She placed the carcass in a little depression that was in between the grass. Now that she had made sure that six of the jackals were stuck in one place, it was her time to advance.
As they waited for their leader to howl the next command, there was a sudden change in the air current. Before they could think of what could it be, there was a huge cry of help. Shero had taken a leap from behind them and as she was landing, she pierced the neck of two of them with her claws. The force was great enough to send the claws through their necks and pierce the dead carcass, increasing the number of dead animals there. Taken aback by the sudden change of events, two jackals from the rear climbed on the back and started to rip off her skin above the spine. In a fit of rage to get those off she rolled on the ground. Rolling with speed, the jackals were flung off the back crashing on the ground with broken bones. Hearing the squeals and anticipating that their comrades are in danger, the leader and the vigilant sped to the arena. While speeding they sent out the command to back off and regroup, if alive about a few meters away. The only way to win this was to show collective use of strength.
There was absolute silence for the next few minutes with each party trying to outsmart the other. All that could be heard was only hustling of grass. Shero peered above the grass to see four of them waiting adjacently, in anticipation to attack. There were a few whispers, probably they were planning their strategy. But what surprised her was that far behind, there was a movement, they could be having more of their forces to join. Her right paw was bleeding profusely and her stance was now different, she couldn’t get all of her balance. Her back was bleeding due to the numerous bites. She quickly tried to rub off the blood from the wound by using the back of her paw, but something pierced into her wound, it hurt like crazy. She whimpered in pain as she tried to remove the stuck tooth in the wound. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes. The rolling over had made some of their teeth pierce her back. The pain was increasing with every second. As she was contemplating on the best remedy for the wound, she heard the jackals raise their war cry. They had spotted her and were advancing fast. She hardly had time to react while one leaped over her to distract her and another one gave a bite and ran away with a part of her flesh.
Total silence prevailed for the next few seconds.
That was too quick to react, Shero was now on the ground totally taken aback by the attack. As she stared into the night sky, she could see her kids waiting for her. They hadn’t eaten for a day. Left alone all by herself, she somehow wished someone could come and give her a helping hand. Instead of pleasing her mind with false hope, she mustered up courage and got onto her feet. This night was going to end with victory on her side. She had to be home to see those lovely faces. If it was the last breath tonight, it had to be in front of them.
She knew that they were going to attack from all the sides this time. Taking a few steps forward, she readied herself. As expected, now the first jackal leaped from behind her to distract her, but the cheetah was too clever for it. As it leaped, in one swift motion Shero rolled on the ground plucked the dirty thing from mid-air and bashed it to the ground. Within seconds its brain was crushed. She now waited low for the next one to leap on. Shero kept a tight vigil. A few moments later it emerged from the left side, before Shero could react, she saw another cat pouncing on the airborne jackal and it crushed it to death. But was someone fighting on her side now, she wondered who could it be. The smell of the cat was familiar, the pattern of dots on the skin was nearly identical to hers and the move it used to pin the opponent down was a trade mark that her mother had taught her. Could it be him?
Quickly running to where both the animals had fallen, she was to see a proud moment for any mother. Her son sat there looking at the carcass of the jackal and gave a smile to her. “Number three mommy” he exclaimed as the beating of his chest came back to normalcy. She remembered the time when she almost said the same words to her mother.
After doing a complete check on him and ensuring that he is unhurt, bleeding Shero smiled at him and whispered “you have graduated into an adult, kiddo.”